A review by Martin Garner
Want a feast this Christmas? Look no further than Anthony McGeehan’s latest offering. Following ‘Bird’s Through Irish Eyes’, reviewed HERE, this new publication seeks to inform and inspire the nature and bird enthusiasts of Ireland- it easily serves a much wider audience.
Don’t be fooled. However long or short a time you have been birding. However much or little time you spend in the field, however big or small your garden, I cannot see how you will fail to be both informed and inspired beyond expectation.
Indeed I must apologise as I had hoped to say something here sooner but have been a little stymied by several factors, not least the volume of fascinating material which I wanted to try to digest before tap tapping on the keyboard. There’s too much good stuff here and I’m not going to make it so…
…the book is set aside on me wee coffee table as the Christmas season read in preparation for January 1st 2015. Why? I am a compulsive January 1st birdwatcher. I have been for 40 years. When the local church bells toll midnight and a new year begins, so I look on a fresh clean canvas. It’s all-new. Anticipated excitement already grips me as there is so much to see, so much I hope to learn. Most of the birds I see in 2015 will of course be species I have seen before, yet I know I can come to each one with fresh eyes and an open heart to discover.
This book is the ideal primer.
Anthony’s familiar engaging writing style, is once again beautifully illustrated by well-chosen photographs sometimes in clever collage form to aid the communication of ideas. The pages are dripping with new insights and observations. I know I will be watching the Starlings and Reed Bunting, Coals Tits and Song Thrushes with renewed wonder.
In roughly two halves, the 231 pages are divided between a 25-chapter section giving insights into the lives of common birds. This is followed by a closer look at 70 common species. In the course of his writing I was privy to some of Antony’s discoveries begun with his own field observations. It was tantamount to hearing from an investigative reporter who had unearthed startling new information on a familiar human narrative. So juicy were some of his observations I seriously contemplated poaching and publishing . In the end I could only allude, in talks I was giving at the time, about ‘discoveries on birds are still being made from he kitchen window’. In summarizing this inadequate review then:
This book is a Christmas feast for all ornithologists whether professional and ‘established’ or just awakening that passion as in my 7-year-old niece Charlie. Indeed a need is arising in me now to leave the laptop and engage with the wonders, even mini- miracles of the wild birds on my doorstep.
A Delicious Read!
Some fascinating bird facts found in BIRDS of the Homeplace:
- The brains of some titmice (such as Coal Tit) brains expand in volume by 30 per cent during the autumn burst of food storing so that the bird can remember where it left its winter stores of food.
- Birds have eyes with two focussing spots and because the optic nerve is controlled by two separate parts of the brain, what is seen by the left eye isn’t remembered by the right.
- Birds can see in ultraviolet as well polarising light and use it as a means to navigate – as did the Vikings who are believed to have used a crystal, coined a ‘sunstone’, as a polarising filter that glinted blue when pointed to the invisible sun during cloudy weather.
- Songbirds can lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight at night.
- Longevity records aren’t always accurate as the metal rings used to tag birds corrode in water, meaning individuals could be older.
- When a Peregrine attacks from above, it reaches such velocity (70–90 m per second/252–324 km/h) that the G-forces encountered would make a human pilot black out.
- A Swallow, whose arrival signals the end of winter, weighs about the same as a slice of buttered toast.
- Dunnocks sometimes indulge in a ménage-à-trois with a female using two males to make sure her two chicks are well fed.
- It’s well known that Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests but did you know that Cuckoo chicks jettison their step-siblings from the nest, despite weighing a mere 3 grams?
- Male sex organs regrow just before the mating season. And during the mating season the males display and the females choose!
- Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus, who founded a framework for naming nature called binomial nomenclature, used phonetics to name birds e.g. Crex crex for Corncrake and Pica pica for Magpie.
- Birds identify each other through song and often adopt the trills of neighbours – an outsider doesn’t stand a chance of sneaking in.
- A bird’s respiratory system extracts oxygen from air using air sacs as well as lungs. Sacs are located throughout the body, such as within abdominal cavities and between the skin and body walls. Ironically, the lungs themselves hold almost no used air. Each intake of breath travels a continuous path around various parts of the anatomy where sacs extract oxygen from the passing stream of air.
- Inside eggs, chicks call to each other. Chicks can also pick out their parents’ call from a crowd.
- Blackbirds stalking worms employ a rugby scrum ‘crouch, touch, engage’ action.
- A Jackdaw was trained to open eight boxes to find five pieces of food, some of which were stored in pairs to challenge the bird’s counting skills. He found them all and counted by nodding his head once for the first piece, twice for the second and so on.
- Sparrowhawks are harbingers of havoc – in Anglo-Saxon Old English, ‘hafoc’ meant hawk.